Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Burmese telephone market set for dramatic growth

August 16th, 2010

A telephone tower in Rangoon city

Kong Janoi, IMNA : Decreasing landline prices and expanding phone services, both to be launched this week, are exciting potential customers all over Burma.

According to this week’s edition of Burma’s weekly Eleven journal, this week the Burmese government-controlled department of Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT)is launching a new reduced-price telephone landline service; the department is also adding another digit to Burmese phone dialing numbers, thereby upping the amount of daling numbers available to potential users around the country.

A Rangoon-based business magazine’s editor told IMNA that increasing demand within the country necessitated the need a for increased telephone services nationwide. The attractive price of the newly available landlines are also expected to attract even more interested customers.

“This landline is only a million kyat [1,000 USD] per head and [buyers] will get service three or four weeks after applying. Compared to in the past, [it would take] you three years at least to get service after applying and the price is about 2.5 million kyat [2,500 USD] per head. This one is relatively cheap and easy to apply for so many customers will [be interested] to buy it,” he said.

According to figures published by this week’s Weekly Eleven journal, there are currently only a little over 2 million [2,199,049] total phone owners in the whole of Burma; the country has a population of over 50 million people.

The reason for the service expansion is unknown. A political analyst in Rangoon told IMNA, “It is strange that the government is now opening up communication service, because before they didn’t want civilians to use such a communication tool. By using this tool they [the government] think that people will communicate with the outside world and [start] telling what they have been suffering in this country.”

Phone service expansion has in the past been attributed to government attempts to raise funds for the upcoming national elections, recently set for November 7th. A source quoted in a June 18th, 2009 article published by The Irrawaddy news magazine linked phone service expansion to the Burmese government’s inadequate budget, indicating that that the government needed more funds to hold the 2010 elections.

Despite the possibility of government profit, many of the sources that IMNA interviewed felt that expansion of phone services will serve to empower the Burmese people. A Rangoon-based journalist interviewed by IMNA expressed optimism for the change, opining that the launching of new phone service will prove highly beneficial to the country’s citizens.

“This is good thing if lots of phone service is available to people, so that the media can contact them [as a] part of monitoring or checking [the upcoming] election,” he explained.

Min Yan Naign, a founder of Generation Wave, a campaign group dedicated to promoting voter boycotts of the upcoming elections, told IMNA that having increased phone services available in Burma will greatly increase the group’s campaigning abilities, which already rely heavily on cellular phone services.

“We use graffiti as our campaigning tool but since phone service [is becoming] available to many people, we use SMS [Short Message Service] in our campaign which is easier and less risky. We use prepaid once-time-use SIM cards and we throw them away after sending a campaigning message.”

According to the Rangoon business magazine editor that IMNA interviewed earlier in this article, Burma remains one of the world’s costliest places to obtain phone services, with a single prepaid SIM card costing as much as 20 US dollars for one hour’s worth of usage.

Short URL: http://monnews.org/?p=957

Burma's Youth Rapping for Revolution

Download This year looks set to be a crucial one for Burma.

The military government has announced that the first elections for 20 years will be held on November the 7th and international attention is likely to be focused on the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But there is another group working to bring about change in Burma whose methods are less conventional.

Generation Wave is a group of hip-hop-loving, young Burmese, dedicated to overthrowing the military government.

They are boycotting the election and demanding a social revolution.

Banyar Kong Janoi went to meet them in Rangoon.

‘Don’t give up! Be brave to say what is not right!’ rap Generation Wave.

Their song is being played in Burma on the foreign-based television station, the Democratic Voice of Burma.

The song is amusing and the film clip shows four members of Generation Wave wearing masks and bouncing around.

They act out the military junta arresting, torturing, and imprisoning political activists.

Generation Wave asks people to overthrow the military regime with them.

26-year-old, Pakker is watching the music video closely. He, like many young Burmese, is a big fan of Generation Wave.

“The song is very important for young people because we can learn from the lyrics. The message from the music goes to your heart. The more the youth become knowledgeable the better society will be. This song informs us about the election. After listening to it we will know whether it’s worthwhile for us to vote.”

Aung Than Htike is one of the singers in Generation Wave based in Rangoon.

We met in a public space near the sea so we will not stand out.

“We are activists. We send messages to people in different ways. Music is one of our tools to send our messages. We also recently published a poem and distributed it to the people. Sometimes we use graffiti on walls. Whatever we can do, we will do to it to raise the awareness of people.”

For this he is a wanted man in Burma.

He keeps his home address and daily movements secret.

He says he nearly got caught by the state police last year.

“I was working underground but when one of my colleagues got arrested the police got our profiles. I was put on the wanted list by the military regime. A year ago the police came to ask questions about me but they did nothing to them. The police watched my house for about three months.”

About 30 Generation Wave members have already been arrested.

Aung says he has to think carefully about where he stays and is always checking to see if someone is following him.

But despite the risks they are campaigning against the election.

A founder of Generation Wave, Min Yang, says the poll is meaningless.

“The 2010 election is not fair because it’s based on a constitution that we do not accept. We are boycotting the election because we don’t want to stay as slaves to the military for the rest of our lives. That’s why we are campaigning among the people. We are forming alliances with other youth groups to protest as much as we can. If we get more space to carry out our activities we will do more.”

Generation Wave is grounded in harsh reality.

The organisation grew out of what became known as the Saffron Revolution - the 2007 protests led by saffron robed monks, who were violently put down by the Burmese military.

“We didn’t want the revolution to end just like that. After the September uprising nothing changed in our country. As young people we are not satisfied; we demand change. We want freedom from the military rule as soon as possible. So we campaign using music and graffiti to let people know about their rights.”

He says their group attracts young people to politics.

“Politics is about our daily survival. Our economic problems are due to our political situation. What we are doing now is to let people get interested in politics because people should know about politics. It is so our country can be changed and our living standard can be changed."

He says he is very happy that many young people are now involved in the movement.

“After 2007, many youth are interested in politics. They are involved in social work. Based on this fact, we want to make some change in the country because our country’s politics, economy and education are far behind other countries. So we will do whatever we have to do, to change our country with non-violent ways such as involving social working and music campaigns.”

Back at the house receiving the DVB TV channel which is broadcasting a Generation Wave song, a community leader Nai Hla Thein says music is the only language in which young people are interested.

“Many young people are interested in Generation Wave songs that were broadcast from the DVB TV channel. This is a good sign because many young generations do not understand the country politics such as rights abuse, inequality. They even don’t know that the peoples’ leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is struggling. By listening to their music and visualizing the picture in TV, many people learn a lot what they don’t know yet about our country. We want to see these kinds of activities more in the future.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thai language degree introduced at Burmese university

August 13th, 2010

Students attend classes at YUFL

Kong Janoi, IMNA : The University of Foreign Languages in Yangon [Rangoon] (YUFL) plans to launch a new Thai language degree program during the 2010-2011 academic year.

An official from the University’s new Thai Language department told IMNA that implementing a new Thai language program is part of an expansion project for the university. She declined to give further comment.

Former UFL students who are currently pursuing further studies in Bangkok feel that increasing their proficiency in the Thai language will be beneficial for their future careers; many pointed to the thousands of Burmese students currently studying in Thailand and the millions of Burmese migrant workers who are employed in the country.

A UFL alumni, who is currently studying in Thailand, says the inclusion of Thai in the University’s curriculum provides a great opportunity to young people in Burma.

“Thailand is our neighboring country and its economy is growing. This is the University of Foreign Language so they [ the University] need to implement the courses that will attract students,” she said.

Another former student currently enrolled at a Thai University said the UFL is one of Burma’s most selective universities, after the University of Medicine; UFL programs are highly sought after by students who hope to find international employment.

Many, like the students interviewed above, applaud the addition of a Thai language program to universities in Burma as a step towards empowering Burma and Burmese citizens’ economic negotiations with Thailand. Others do not greet the news with complete optimism.

Dr Sean Turnell, associate professor in economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, and Burma economic expert, cautioned IMNA that audiences must consider the larger nature of economic relations between the two countries, and take care not to overplay the actual power that proficient Thai will give Burma or Burmese citizens:

“In and of itself, this decision to teach Thai is a good thing. Burma will, and must, always have a close economic relationship with Thailand, and such teaching should only help Burma get the most out of this relationship.”

“However, there is a problem at the degree of imbalance in the economic relationship between the two countries at the moment, which is probably the source of why some might be uncomfortable at news like this. Put simply, Burma is little more than a quarry and source of unfinished raw materials for Thailand and other countries…”

The three-year bachelor degree programs at Burma’s two universities of foreign languages, located in Rangoon and Mandalay respectively, already offer English, French, Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean and Russian language courses. Thai will only at present be offered at the Rangoon-based site. This week’s edition of Burma’s Weekly-Eleven journal reported that entrance depends on university entrance exam scores, with top students earning places in the ultra-competitive English program. The journal also reported that admission to the new Thai program may demand high marks as well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bloggers Fight for Freedom of Expression in Burma Election

Download Blogs are an alternative source of independence news in Burma as all other media such as newspapers, radio, and TV are controlled by the military regime.

The bloggers gained international attention during the ‘Saffron Revolution’ against the government lead by the countries monks in 2007. Bloggers were the main source of news and uploaded video and images of the protest.

As our reporter Banyar Kong Janoi found out, the blogs are an important source of election news for young people inside Burma.

He spent two days with a renowned blogger inYangon.

An internet shop in Yangon is full of customers.

Most of them are young.

All though there is still no date for the election, there are many online forums with open heated debate about the poll.

University student, Mi Sike Ka-mar Chan, says she has learned a lot about the election online.

“2010 election is a heated issue in every blogs. On their discussion page, some people comment the election is good for people while others criticize. Some criticize the National League for Democracy Party not joining the election while others support them for boycotting it. There are a lot of blogs about Burma. We just read the ones that interest us. The blog suits Burmese people because they have a low bandwidth so we can open them easily.”

Another university student, Moe Kyaw, says blogs are his only source of information.

“I learnt from the blog about the 2010 election especially from the blogs which focus on politics. They post how to vote and they post the regulation of the election. By reading those posts we know the answers and we can say why we don’t agree with the election.”

The freeforcountry.tayzartay.com blogger is based in Rangoon.

He is calling for radical changes to the election process.

“We want to see an election of international standard. The government must change. We want a government who is truly elected by the people. We have lived under a military dictatorship since birth. Because of these we have to struggle to live. Compared to other countries we are behind because of the military leaders. That’s why we must follow other countries and lift the living standard of the people. We are fighting with our pen to explain to people from our blog.”

His blog became popular among young people inside Burma and gained an international audience after the ‘Saffron Revolution’ in 2007 when monks staged large street protests against the military regime in Burma.

The bloggers played a critical role by uploading images and telling the true story. In response the government cut internet access to the entire country.

A ‘Force for Country’ blogger explains how they avoid the government censorship.

“We need software, proxy numbers to pass through a banned server to login our blogs. The free proxy can be expired. So we share among our peers and we found new tech and proxy numbers that can pass the server to upload posts. We upload it in different internet cafés because if we upload at a permanent shop and post with a single IP, the authorities would know; they would come and arrest us. Typing in the house, we just upload the post in the shop within a minute. As soon as we have uploaded we leave.”

Shop owners are required to report customers who are looking at banned websites or sites that criticise the government.

They have been ordered by the government to check each user’s screen every 15 minutes to monitor their online activities.

On all the PCs in this internet café is a sign that reads: “You are not allowed to see political and pornography websites.”

Youtube, Google mail and Yahoo mail are blocked.

However many users are smart enough to surf banned websites through proxy servers.

But bloggers working inside the country do so at great risk.

28-year-old blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2008 for posting a cartoon of the military leader, Than Shwe.

‘Free for country’ bloggers says security is very important.

“We can’t just look at the screen; we always have to look around us and see who is looking at us. When we are uploading, we do not use a full screen. We use the “restore down” function- half screen. While we are uploading the post we pretend to be surfing other websites so people don’t pay attention to us.”

He says he takes the risks because it’s his responsibility as a citizen of Burma.

“I don’t get any support in the way of funds to operate this blog. I just save from my pocket money to use the Internet for uploading posts. I get technical help from my friends who are better with computers. We can present the true story. It’s incredible when we go on a field trip; we can upload pictures which tell the true current story. When people understand the situation and learn from our blog, we are happier than if we got paid for our work. I feel this job is important so I do it.”

He says he is very honest in his work.

“I am very concerned with accuracy. I go into the field to collect information. Although there is not a lot of news on my blog it’s more of a watchdog. I monitor the work of civil servants and government officials. If I get a new’s tip, I will investigate further before posting it and I will take photos.”

Back in the Rangoon internet café university student, Nai Rot Khine, says bloggers are a lifeline for her generation.

“As for me, reading blogs is very important. We can read different kinds of issues. We can read open discussion about the current politics so we can make ourselves rich in knowledge.”

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Piracy crackdown aims to boost Burma’s film and music industries

Recent police crackdowns on pirated copies of Burmese music and films in the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay are expected to provide an economic boost to Burma’s struggling entertainment industry.

A resident in Burma’s capital city, Rangoon, told IMNA today that the streets of Rangoon are currently completely devoid of vendors selling pirated copies of Burmese films or music. The crackdown is reported to have been in effect since May 2010.

“Before, we could find some pirated copies everywhere, although it was illegal to buy them, because the venders bribed the police to [allow them to] sell them , but now they [venders] cannot bribe the police anymore. The police have even give some money to people who informed them about pirated CDs and DVD [being sold],” she said.

This source reported that the crackdown includes only Burmese films productions. Film vendors selling pirated western and Korean films can still be seen on Rangoon’s streets, yelling for customers.

“The police were paid to crack down on pirated copies of Burmese film and music productions. The other films, like Korean movies and western movies, they are not paid [to confiscate] so who cares?” she said.

Representatives from Burma’s entertainment industry complained to The Irrawaddy newspaper on June 29th, 2007, that widespread piracy of Burmese music and film were driving both industries to the brink of collapse; the Burmese government’s periodic attempts to stifle piracy were deemed too weak to be truly effective.

According to a journalist in Rangoon, the orders for this most recent, and more stringent, attempt to quell piracy were issued by the Burmese government after insistant complains from representatives of the country’s film industry.

“The serious crackdown happened when [film] director Maung Myo Min’s group demanded that the government enforce the laws three month ago. After that they [the police] have arrested many vendors in the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay,” he explained.

The police headquarters in Rangoon were not available for comment.

A travel agent in Rangoon informed IMNA that airports have become the sites of police searches for contraband pirated material, and that her agency is now taking care to warn customers of the situation before they attempt to fly out of the country.


A pirated vendor sells entertainment CDs and DVDs on the street of Rangoon

“The airport authorities check everything, and if they see some pirated CDs and DVDs, they will bring travelers to the Special Police. They [the Special Police] will fine them about 10,000 Kyat [US $10] . So to avoid trouble and fines, we recommend our customer buy legitimate one,” she said.

Buying legal DVDs and CDs is an excessive expense for most Rangoon dwellers, IMNA’s first source in Rangoon reports. She claims that legal DVDs and CDs cost around 2,000 kyat [US $2] each, while pirated copies cost as little as 400 kyat [$0.40]. Barring this option, individuals with internet access (including herself, she admits) can always download entertainment for free.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Burma Election Campaign Not Free and Fair

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Download All though there is still no date for the election, politically campaigning has begun across Burma.

There are 37 other new political parties and five existing groups that have registered to contesting in the poll that is expected to be held later this year.

They include Pro-military, pro-democracy and ethnic parties.

As Banyar Kong Janoi reports from Rangoon is not a free and fair campaign.

On the street of Rangoon, people are indecisives about what party they are going to vote for in the election.

A university student, Moe Kyaw says he will not take part.

“I don’t know who to vote for because I don’t like any party. I like the National League for Democracy Party but their break away party seems vague. I have to wait and see what they can do. Properly, they can do nothing for the people so I will not vote for anyone.”

Opposition parties are finding it very hard to campaign. They are being severely restricted by the military government.

Opposition party flags and posters are only allowed to be displayed in their private offices.

All printed material has to pass the State Security Censorship Board before bring distributed.

And the media is control by the military government.

50 years old Hla Thein is a influencial leader the in Mon State. He says his community doesn’t know about the poll.

“We don’t have a space to move and to speak about politics so many of people are no longer interested. Noone has told us what is happening with this upcoming election. Nobody knows what the election will mean to their everyday life. them. They also don’t know about how to cast their vote.”

Despite the restrictions opposition parties are campaigning in many parts of the country.

But they can’t reach many areas because of a lack of resources.

However, the pro junta party- Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)- is free to campaign and lure certain groups to join the party.

Party members enjoy cheap mobile phone rates and have been given credit loans from the state bank.

Mon ethnic elder Hla Thein again.

“The military regime has it worked out that the parties supporting them will win. The pro-junta party will get money from the state budget to use for its campaign. They even can organize people freely while other opposition parties are struggling for funds and are not free to organizing people. It is very hard for the opposition groups to win the polls.”

Despite all the obstacles being place in front of them opposition parties still believe they can win votes.

Nai Ngwe Thein is a leader of All Mon Region Party which will contest on the poll.

“We have been told what we can and can not do. We have to report where we are going to and how many people are at our meetings. The pro Pro-junta party has been campaigning long before they got a permit to run as a party. But we are not afraid because many people don’t like their party. People will only vote for the pro-junta party if they are are threatened. Our job is to tell people not to be afraid. We will win if there is a fair election.”

Nai Tun a resident in Mon State says he will vote no matter what.

“Although we know this election is not fair, we will vote for the Mon party because they care about our people.”

The National Democratic Force, the break-away party from Aung San Suu Kyi’s is trying to convince it’s supporters that the election is a step towards democracy and justice in Burma.

U Khin Maung Swe is the leader of the party. I spoke to him on the phone as it was too dangerous for us to met.

“We will see the result after the people cast their vote. If all democratic forces including ethnic democracy parties win a large number of seats in the parliament we can change the constitution. And we can change the laws to benefit the people and amend the laws that oppress the people as well.”

Nai Rot Khine a university student in Mon State also has some hope that the election may bring about much needed change.

“Although good and bad always come together. I would say this election is a first step forward in breaking burma’s political deadlock. To create a true election atmosphere the military regime should allow all parties to organize people and should give press freedom so the media can investigate any issue in the country.”

For Asia Calling, this is Banyar Kong Janoi in Rangoon.

Woman tells tale of abuse in Rangoon Division

August 2nd, 2010

Kong Janoi, IMNA : A woman taking refuge on the Thai-Burma border claims that she fled her home, after abuse at the hands of that township-level authorities in her village in south Dagon Township, Rangoon Division made life for herself and her family unbearable.

Mya Thein Khine, of Karen and Burmese heritage, told IMNA that local authorities used their political powers to harass , imprison, and fine her husband and brother-in-law; she and her husband fled to the Thai-Burma border three months ago.

Mya Thein Khine explained to IMNA that south Dagon Township’s chairman U Khin Zaw and township secretary U Hla Sein, who were appointed to those positions after Burma’s military government reformed the local administration in 2009, repeatedly accused Mya Thein Khine’s husband, an ethnic Shan man, of being connected to Shan armed groups, simply because the couple had immigrated to Yangon Divison from Shan State looking for new business opportunities.

Mya Thein Khine reported to IMNA that the township authorities’ accusations and abuse were groundless and discriminatory.

“Because my husband is Shan, they [local authorities] accused him of being a Shan rebel group member. We are citizens in this country. We have ID cards. We have the right to move everywhere in the country. We did nothing wrong against the country. They do not have an evidence to prove that he is a Shan armed group member.”

Living in 168 quarter in South Dagon she also informed that her sister’s husband, who lived with the family, was arrested and sent to jail for singing a song that local authorities found offensive.

“He was just singing in the street on the way back home after drinking with his friends. They thought he sang indirectly to them about what they had done to people [human rights abuses]. So they accused him of disrespecting authorities and ordered the police to arrest him. We had to give police 20,000 kyat [20 USD] in order to get his release,” she said.

“It is not much money but for poor people like us, we struggled to get it,” she added.

Although her brother-in-law was released after bribing the police, Mya Thein Khine reported that the case is still ongoing because the local authorities wanted to continue to punish her brother, who is still living in Dagon Township.

“The local authorities are not satisfied with the release of our brother-in-law so they are being overly harsh with him,” she said.

U Aung Myo Thein from The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners informed IMNA that cases like those of Mya Thein Khine’s family are common in Bumra. He reported that local-level authorities have been given increased legal and executive power since the Saffron Revolution.

“People can be arrested for expressing their dissatisfactions in Burma. They will be accused of being rebels. After the authorities give the title to those who complain to them of being ‘rebels’, they can arrest them at any time. There is no further investigation as to whether their accusation is right or wrong. Before, the Military Intelligent Unit and the Police used to investigate the cases and arrest people but after 2007, even pro-junta associations such as Union Solidarity and Development Association can arrest people which is not the correct thing to do. That’s why people may choose to flee from their homes after they feel insecure in their [native] places,” he said.

Short URL: http://monnews.org/?p=902